The novel “The Fractal Prince” by Hannu Rajaniemi was published for the first time in 2012. It’s the sequel to “The Quantum Thief“.
Jean le Flambeur, or at least a version of the thief, is trying to recover his memories on the way to the Earth on the spaceship Perhonen. It’s a very complex task and as if that wasn’t enough a new danger threatens seriously he and Mieli when Perhonen is attacked.
In the city of Sirr, Tawaddud Gomelez has a chance to mend relations with her father after becoming the family’s black sheep. She can help to maintain her father’s influence in the City Council on the occasion of a major decision. However, there are ramifications that may have unintended consequences and change the future of Sirr.
In this second novel in the Jean le Flambeur trilogy there’s the continuation of the this thief’s adventures set in a future when post-humans have colonized the solar system and use highly advanced technologies. The events are after those of “The Quantum Thief” and are partly connected to them so you should have already read the first novel, also get to know characters and setting.
Understanding the references to the various highly advanced technologies may be the main obstacle in reading “The Fractal Prince”. If it’s possible in this novel Hannu Rajaniemi pushes this element even more making it concepts such as reality and the characters’ identity even fuzzier.
The parts of the story that concern directly events experienced by Jean le Flambeur are narrated in the first person, unless he’s using fake identities. However, the fact that his memories were taken away and certain plot developments make his identity “fluid”.
The development of “The Fractal Prince” plot is in some way fractal with different stories that have a narrative that’s apparently going in various directions. In “The Quantum Thief” there was an inspiration to Arsène Lupin’s stories, in this second novel Hannu Rajaniemi got inspired by “One Thousand and One Nights”.
Especially in set in the city of Sirr the tone is sometimes really of a fairy-tale although the jinn is definitely different from the genie in a bottle. The basic plot is in some ways just a frame in which other stories are told and they are themselves an important theme of the novel.
This leads to a certain plot fragmentation, even if the narrative elements are repeated, like a fractal, forming connections among what seem unconnected subplots. The result is a complexity that makes the basic plot intricate because it’s full of details concerning the themes of identity but also that of consciousness. We’re talking about human consciousness but also the boundaries between human and non-human.
Because of these choices, in “The Fractal Prince” the style may seem more important than the substance because at times the plot seems rather thin. In fact in a novel like this one the style is an integral part of the substance. Hannu Rajaniemi mentioned Roger Zelazny among the authors who influenced him and in this novel you can see it even more than in the first one.
The result is that the reader is thrown into this fractal narrative in which there are few explanations. This allows to keep a quite fast pace but makes it difficult to follow the overall complexity of the story. It’s one of the cases in which a second reading can help because some parts might be clearer knowing how the story goes on.
The characters seemed to me a bit sacrificed in “The Fractal Prince”. Jean le Flambeur is less a protagonist than in the first novel and the members of the Gomelez family didn’t seem to me very developed besides a few cliches. It’s a kind of novel in which the characters are sometimes functional to the plot.
Personally I found in “The Fractal Prince” the elements that made me appreciate “The Quantum Thief” but I prefer the first novel because the plot and the characters are stronger. The second novel is really peculiar so the reactions are very subjective: if you like that kind of style and the themes you’ll probably like it.